16 years ago or so, I became a godfather for the first time to my niece, Normandy. This past weekend, I returned home to become a godparent to my nephew, Drake, the youngest son of my youngest sibling. So imagine my surprise when I was told by the priest who was performing the baptism that I could not be my nephew’s godparent in the eyes of the Catholic church. As I was pulled aside by the priest, away from my family members, I was asked quite simply…”Are you a practicing Catholic.” I wasn’t going to lie about my faith and so…I told the man the truth. “No Father, I am not a practicing Catholic. But I am a man of Christian faith.” Apparently this was not enough.
Having BEEN a practicing Catholic from the age of 0 to around the age of 23, having attended a Catholic school for over 8 years, having been baptized, confirmed and having received the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist many times in my lifetime, I incorrectly assumed that this would somehow qualify me as being of sound enough mind to be a godparent to my nephew. Nevermind that I am a godparent ALREADY to my niece (who is growing up quite nicely, I might add, and who is a smart and talented young woman) and that ceremony took place in a Catholic church not 2 miles from this one. But according to Father Peter Fegan of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio, I do not qualify as being godfather material in the eyes of the Catholic church. So…I walked away from him and asked my Dad, who IS a devout Catholic, to stand in for me. I then hugged my sister, kissed her on the cheek and told her that if there EVER came a time where EITHER of her 2 children needed my help in ANY capacity, I would ALWAYS be there. And truthfully, that goes for ANY of my siblings and their kids. But that’s not why I’m writing. My brother and sisters already KNOW I am ready and willing to step in if there is ever an issue with their kids. That’s never been in question.
What IS in question is why the Catholic church would be so overly critical of MY faith when not 20 minutes earlier Father Fegan was giving a homily about “the weeds & the wheat.” He rambled on about how the church wants them both to grow to harvest and that “God is patient and merciful. He wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. There is always the possibility of conversion.” So I sat and listened to this sermon and was being led to believe that the Catholic church is accepting of those who don’t exactly follow the criteria of being “the wheat.” The householder in this story (Matthew 13:24-30) didn’t want his slaves to pull the weeds because he was afraid they might also pull up the wheat. What we NOW know in these modern times is that weeds could possible grow to be a valuable asset to a garden because they hold top-soil, pull up water and nutrients, provide food, help control insects among other things. Back in the times of Jesus, farmers had no idea what an asset the weeds could be. Not that we like looking at them growing in our gardens but, in our laziest of days, we know that if they do grow, there may be some benefit to it. But I digress…
I’m not wanting to wage a war against Catholicism. That’s not why I’m writing. I’m just trying to understand why I was rejected as godfather material. After reviewing the criteria for becoming a godfather in the Catholic church, I see why Father Fegan refused to let me stand by my nephews side while he was baptized. The criteria for being a godfather is of the following…
a. “To be admitted to undertake the office of Sponsor, a person must:” [Canon Law # 874.1] a. “be appointed by the candidate for baptism, or by the parents or whoever stands in their place, or failing these, by the parish priest or the minister; to be appointed the person must be suitable for this role and have the intention of fulfilling it;” [Canon Law # 874.1.1]
b. “be not less than 16 years of age, unless a different age has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, or unless the parish priest or the minister considers that there is a just reason for an exception to be made;” [Canon Law # 874.1.2]
c. “be a catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken;” [Canon Law # 874.1.3]
d. “not labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;” [Canon Law # 874.1.4]
e. “not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptised.” [Canon Law # 874.1.5]
f. “A baptised person who belongs to a non-catholic ecclesial community may be admitted only in company with a catholic Sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism.” [Canon Law # 874.2]
So there are 6 rules to being a godparent in the Catholic church. Obviously I fall under the “F” category. And so that is what happened. My Dad stood in as my “sponsor” and I witnessed the baptism. So there you have it. Or do you? Because after doing some research, I found that there are several rules in place that would also discount me as a godparent. As a matter of fact, THAT list is MUCH longer and is the following…
a. the person has no intention of fulfilling his obligations as a Godparent.
b. the person is younger than the age that has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, usually age 16.
c. the person is not a Catholic.
d. the person has not received the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic faith.
e. the person has not received the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic faith.
f. the person has not received the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic faith.
g. the person is not living his faith in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (Example: The person has not been at Mass for 2, 5 or 10 years. The person employs birth control methods.)
h. the person belongs to a religious Order (preventing him/her from making this commitment).
i. the person is the spouse of the one seeking Baptism.
j. the person is a biological or adoptive father or mother of the child.
k. the person has incurred an official excommunication or “latae sententiae,” by the very commission of the offense. (Example: involved in one or more abortions.)
l. the person is a member of a condemned society.
m. the person is a public sinner. (Example: Prostitution, living common-law.)
n. the person is a heretic. “Heresy is the obstinate post- baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” [Canon Law # 2089]
o. the person belongs to a schism. “Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” [Canon Law # 2089]
p. the person is involved in a mix-marriage and believes his/her children should choose their own religion when they grow up.
q. the person believes that all religions are equal or that other religions are equal to the Catholic Church.
r. the person is involved in an invalid marriage. (Example: Justice of the Peace, marriage outside the Church.)
s. the person is not registered with a parish, not belonging to any specific faith community.
So I was doing okay until I got to “G”…and then it was all blown up by the fact that I hadn’t really been to Mass in a while (although it sure does hedge on that, doesn’t it? 2, 5 or 10 years? Well…WHICH IS IT? Seems like an awful lot of grey area there. And I DID attend mass yesterday so…does that count?). And then you also have “P” which, although I’m not in a mixed marriage, I DO believe my kids can think for themselves once they are of age and make their own decisions on religion. Seems like that one should have it’s own letter really. There’s “R,” because I was married for the second time in a Presbyterian church AFTER I got DIVORCED from my first marriage some 18 years ago (but my first wife and I were married in the Catholic church so maybe I catch a break there? I dunno). And “S” kinda sticks with me also. I work most Sundays so I really can’t honestly say that I belong to any specific faith community (but if I DID, I seriously doubt it would be Catholic at this point). And then there’s the BIGGIE. The biggest sticking point in all of this mess which quite literally took a half an hour to get me this riled up yesterday but I feel it needs to be addressed.
“Q” is why the Catholic faith fails me on so many levels. When addressing the situation yesterday, Father Fegan says to me that, at that moment, it was not the time or the place to discuss why or why not I should or shouldn’t be the godfather to my nephew. Truthfully, “Q” is why I will never step foot in a Catholic church ever again. “Q” is the deal breaker and, I feel, why the Catholic religion is shooting itself in the foot. “Q” states…the person believes that all religions are equal or that other religions are equal to the Catholic Church. And to that I say…absolutely. ABSOLUTELY other religions are equal to each other. Who am I to judge what YOU believe? The Catholic church seems to believe that it is the ONLY church that matters. It is THE wheat. Not just some of the wheat or a larger portion of the wheat. It is THE wheat. All others are weeds and, if left to their own devices, may SOMEDAY come to kind of pass as wheat…but doubtfully so. So according to yesterday, the Catholic church doesn’t even adhere to its own message. Or does it? Who knows? Because what I have found with the Catholic church is that it doesn’t really WANT to discuss ANYTHING that might seem as if you are questioning your faith. The Catholic church, like ALL churches, is a business. It’s job is to get you in the pews and get you to put money in those baskets and to hope that you, as a follower, do not question anything the church tells you. And that is where it fails.
Welcome to the 20th century. We all think. We all have our situations. We all find acceptance. We all have our reasons to believe. Does it matter WHY we believe or WHERE we believe? Absolutely it does…to the church. Because it is a BUSINESS. I find that God is with me every second of the day. Jesus Christ is with me EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. I do not believe that my God will judge me simply because I don’t sit in a pew every Sunday, say a set of prayers that have barely changed in some 200 years and put a few bucks in a basket being passed from person to person. I have to believe that is NOT the case or else I am obviously going to hell and so what’s the point of all of this? If God didn’t want us to think or to consider options or to understand facts, why do we have BRAINS? If God wanted us to be sheep, why not make us into sheep and be done with it? God WANTS us to question! God WANTS us to think! God WANTS us to make decisions and learn from them! I HAVE to believe this or else I would consider myself a complete idiot and I should never leave my house.
So let’s recap. I am the godfather to my youngest sisters youngest son. I don’t really care one way or another what the Catholic church says. I love Drake and his brother Erik unconditionally. THAT is what God would want to hear. Not that it matters because God is in my heart and God knows. The Catholic church, from what I saw yesterday, will someday have to realize that I, like many other shoppers, enjoy options. I can’t just shop at Walmart or Kohls everyday. I can’t just eat at McDonalds or at The Outback every….single…day. I need to be able to make my own choices. I like options. I enjoy having an opinion and listening and understanding. Don’t tell me it’s “not the time or place.” It IS the time and place…ALWAYS. And hopefully at some point, ALL religions will see that we are ALL God’s children. It doesn’t matter what roof is over our heads. But that’s what yesterday was really about, wasn’t it? And because that was the case, I can now understand and move on and I will pray that God can see the wrong that took place and he will forgive the Catholic church for all of its misgivings.
And hopefully God will help Father Fegan pick a better homily that is more fitting of the church he resides in for next week. ‘Cause yesterday’s was a really poor choice, all things considered.